Saturday

"wdydwyd?" - the story of a surprising question

I was in my office late one night in 1999 not wanting to be bothered.

The phone rang, and I wanted to ignore it . . . but I felt compelled to answer.

Before I could start, a child's voice blurted,
"Why do you do what you do?"

It was the last thing I had expected to hear.

The kid was simply on assignment from his school teacher to interview someone from a community service agency. He looked in the Yellow Pages and landed on my phone number.

At the time, I worked for a non-profit organization, and I was used to explaining in grand and overly sophisticated terms why the organization that I worked for did what it did -- it's how we go funding. I had become good at talking to funders and writing grants with big theories and detailed plans. Yet, I had lost touch with the simplicity behind an unnecessary amount of complexity.

I found myself at work way too late trying to figure out some way to explain to a 12 year old why I worked for a youth-media organization and why it was important for people to create their own images, video and music (keep in mind that this was in 1998 before all this user-generated content stuff). Meanwhile, I was trying to remember if it was, in fact, important and what else might I be doing instead. Why was I doing this? I came up with something that sounded convincing to me. But, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that it was harder to answer than I expected.

I've thought about that phone call many times, and that question chases me around still. It's a really simple question, yet so much depends on it. Starting in the summer of 2004, Mardie Oakes and I started asking other people this question. People often say they don't have time (or) don't know what to answer (or) give a flip response to make fun of a question that they unknowingly fear. Many times people avoid it altogether. Other times, people's answers inspire us or just make us laugh.

One day, what if thousands of 12 year olds randomly called people and blurted:
"Why do you do what you do?"

In the meantime, we'd love to invite you to spread the question: answer it yourself & ask others. Maybe even join as a Collaborating Artist with your own gallery.

~ Tony Deifell | contact

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